Thursday, May 5

My Frugal Miser - April Expenses: $2,692


In April my spending was okay.  I lost $670 in Las Vegas, which sucks but our room and food were free that week and the flights were only $92 each.  I spent $314 on flights to Atlanta for our Europe trip (the rest of the flights were booked already) and the one night we spent in Phoenix I spent $101 for a room.  Nothing else was out of the ordinary.



April Expenses:  $2,692

$682 Auto ($143 gas, $7 repairs/maintenance, $532 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$705 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$260 Food
$81 Gifts Given
$231 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$26 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$15 Interest Expense
$0 Medical/Dental
$10 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$88 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$114 Utilities
$480 Vacation

Tuesday, May 3

My Frugal Miser - April Income: $9,008


I earned less in April, partly because I was out of town several days.  One of my properties is vacant; all others are occupied and current.  I received significant dividends, primarily from my largest stock holding, Vereit.  Uber stopped offering guaranteed hourly earnings, but they did raise rates a bit in Tampa (unfortunately still lower than they were in December).

Starting this month (May) I will have income from Amazon Prime Now deliveries.  I will also be able to drive more for Uber at the current rates.  I have several hospitality jobs booked as well.  Income should be decent even though we are taking an 8 day cruise this month and will have to go to Birmingham at the end of the month to work on the empty townhouse.

April Income $9,008

$714 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$668 Uber
$6 Lyft
$0 Amazon Deliveries
$6,168 Rental Income
$1,357 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains on Investments
$101 Other Sources

Notes:  
  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work. 

Friday, April 29

My Experience Driving for Amazon Prime Now in Tampa - Day 1

I bit the bullet and decided to try driving for Amazon Prime Now.  The driver side is called Amazon Flex, but customers know it as Amazon Prime Now.  On Wednesday I was scheduled from 8am-4pm, but at midnight on Wednesday more hours were posted and I was able to pick up 4 extra hours from 4pm-8pm.

I arrived early to the warehouse, but there were drivers there already.  You can only check-in through the Amazon Flex app 15 minutes early (you are only paid for the time you are assigned, so there is no benefit to clocking in early).  When you enter the building, you pull a number like you do at the grocery store deli counter.  This is used by the dispatchers to assign orders.  Orders are placed in two hour blocks.  Fifteen minutes before each block, orders begin to be distributed to drivers.  We weren't allowed to choose where we wanted to go or what we wanted to deliver.  We simply accepted the order that was offered to us.

For the first two blocks, each driver was given just one delivery.  Since there were around 70 drivers, this allowed more people to make a delivery, but was very inefficient since you have to return to the warehouse after each assigned set of deliveries.  After this trial run, the dispatchers started giving multiple deliveries to one driver.  Each delivery is designed to be completed in two hours, round-trip.

8:30 AM... I'm given my first delivery:  four items to Riverview, 17 miles from the warehouse.  Most orders are placed in brown paper grocery bags.  If the item requires refrigeration, it is then placed in a blue cooler bag.  Larger items are kept separate.  I have two paper bags and two long boxes going to a residence.  I ring the doorbell and leave the items on the front porch.  I'm back at the warehouse shortly after 9 AM.

Most of the time, the driver has to wait for the next delivery block before getting another delivery.  One exception is when Amazon receives a one-hour delivery.  These orders cost $7.99 and the next available driver is given it as soon as it is ready.  Since there were more than 50 drivers waiting before me, I had a long wait, but at least I was getting paid.

10:12 AM... By chance I receive a one-hour package.  The bag literally weighs 1/10th of one pound (the weight is listed on the shipping label).  For one-hour orders, the recipient must be present to accept delivery.  Amazon calls this an "attended" delivery.  Refrigerated items are also attended.  Most other deliveries are "unattended", which means we can leave them in a safe location even if no one answers the door when we knock.  The delivery is near downtown, right off the interstate.  I am back to the warehouse in half an hour.

12:19 PM... It's disappointing to wait so long.  When I returned from my last order, only ONE driver had been dispatched.  This means many of the drivers assigned the 10 AM - 12 PM block did not receive a delivery.  Fortunately, the noon block was a big one.  Amazon had intentionally limited the number of orders for the first two blocks since we were just getting started.  Now the flood gates were opened.  The dispatchers announced that multiple deliveries in the same area would now be made.  Unfortunately, I only received a single order:  a pet bed for large dogs.  This was being delivered to St. Pete, which was 30 miles from the warehouse.  I spent over an hour to deliver a single 8 pound box.

Depending on your perspective, it either got better or worse from there.  When I returned, I found out the 2 PM - 4 PM block did not have enough deliveries for all the drivers.  At 2:21 PM, one of the managers told all but the next ten drivers to take a break until 3:30 PM.  I would have preferred to make another delivery, but since I had some free time, I went to IKEA.  I'll probably be visiting IKEA often when I work for Amazon since it is on the same road as the warehouse about two miles away.   I found some shelving and racks that I needed for the kitchen, so it was a productive break.

Fortunately, most of the drivers' shifts ended at 4 PM.  This meant that I quickly jumped to the front of the line for the next block of deliveries.  I was given three deliveries in Apollo Beach and Sun City Center.  There was a snafu with Amazon's GPS, as it sent me to the wrong place when it did not recognize the address of a brand new home.  Even so, I made my deliveries and was back to the warehouse around 5:30 PM.

My last delivery block was 6 PM - 8 PM.  Something I like about Amazon Flex is that if you make a delivery and won't be able to return with at least an hour left in the block, you get to go home.  I was given a one-hour delivery to Valrico, which was completely in the opposite direction of home.  I made the delivery with two minutes to spare.  Since it included refrigerated bags, I went back by the warehouse to drop those off.  I confirmed with the manager that I was free to go, and I went home, about 30 minutes early.

I think one thing that Amazon should change is the two hour block rule.  Having drivers return to the warehouse after each set of deliveries is very inefficient.  I don't know if customers can pre-order and specify a future two-hour block, but I imagine they can.  Why not give a driver a route of orders that cover an entire shift?  This would cut way down on dead miles and wasted time.  It's not so bad for the driver.  Sure, I'm losing out on potential tips, but I'm getting paid to cruise back to the warehouse.  Easy driving.

As far as I know, Amazon pays $18 per hour in every city they offer Amazon Prime Now.  The driver is responsible for all his own expenses, including gas, tolls, and maintenance on his vehicle.  One of the greatest advantages over Uber is that Amazon encourages tipping.  They go so far as to automatically add the tip to the customer's order.  The customer has the ability to adjust or remove the tip before placing the order.  On my first day, I was paid $216 by Amazon ($18/hour x 12 hours) and received $34 in tips.  Amazon told us that the first week or two are especially busy, which makes sense considering trial by customers who just heard about the service.  Next week I am scheduled for 24 hours across 4 days.  One of my shifts is just two hours, which is undesirable:  the warehouse is a 45 minute drive from my house.  I'll keep an eye on the app and hope that more hours are posted.  When drivers forfeit their shifts, they are posted back to the job board and you can pick-up same day shifts.

Wednesday, April 13

Is This the Most Frugal Vegas Trip Yet?

A week from today we are leaving for six days in Vegas.  One of the best parts of being self-employed is enjoying a flexible schedule.  When Spirit Airlines had a 99% off fare sale last month, I started looking at flights.  This is the second 99% off sale we have been able to snag.  The first time I saw this offer we went to Panama.  You still have to pay taxes on the flights, but this time we grabbed two tickets to Las Vegas for $92 each round-trip.  I also redeemed my Hertz Free Week certificate that I received when I bought my car.  I still pay taxes on that, too.  Taxes should be around $184 for the premium vehicle I rented.  This isn't a "great deal", but rates were really high the week we are visiting.  The coupon does save me $700 off the cost of a premium vehicle rental.  Last, as always I found free hotel rooms.  The only downside is that we have to move to different hotels throughout our stay:  we are at the Fremont one night, the Suncoast two nights, and the Downtown Grand two nights.  While in the area, we will drive to Phoenix for the weekend.  I am paying for one night in a hotel there.  This room ($90+tax) helps me to meet the requirements for a 30,000 point bonus at IHG (worth about $300).

While in Vegas there are a few ways I plan to stay frugal.  We pay attention to pay tables for one thing.  Since 90% of my gambling is on video poker, I use vpfree2.com to find the casinos with the highest pay tables.  Boyd casinos are usually generous, and Main Street Station gives you a scratch-off card usually worth $2 cash every time you hit a 4-of-a-kind.  The casinos offer us comps even though we usually stick to full-pay video poker machines.  All our rooms in Vegas are comped, and the points we earn from playing usually cover our meals.  I also look for point-based promotions to earn free stuff.   Casinos often give free buffets, t-shirts and other prizes if you earn a certain amount of points, usually on slower days like Tuesdays.  We also redeemed MyVegas rewards for 4 free buffets and two free margaritas.

Getting away for a week is good therapy.  Spending too much time at home right now is stressful because there are so many repair projects I need to do.  Driving for Uber was occupying my time but now they've done away with hourly guarantees and it is hard to find profitable times to drive.  As long as I limit my gambling, this trip will be a very inexpensive getaway.